As the COVID-19 global pandemic continues and evidence of community spread of coronavirus in the Houston and surrounding areas grows, GSBS faculty/PIs at MD Anderson Cancer Center and UTHealth should be taking steps as mandated by their home institutions. GSBS faculty/PIs should have received an email from their home institutions with details about these actions.
Information for GSBS students working in MD Anderson labs: As MD Anderson Cancer Center prepares to reopen its research laboratories, the Graduate School is working with the cancer center to develop a plan that prioritizes the order in which students are given access to facilities.
New policy at MD Anderson regarding screening at building entrances: Starting Saturday, December 12, MD Anderson will institute a new disciplinary policy for individuals who do not comply with entry screening protocols for all research buildings. The cancer center had a large spike in individuals failing to screen over Thanksgiving (screeners were not on duty at the research buildings; therefore, people entering had to go elsewhere to be screened to gain access to facilities) and again this past weekend there was a significant spike. Repeat offenders could potentially have their MD Anderson building access revoked for five days. Read more here.
Post-holiday COVID-19 testing for MD Anderson employees: On-site employees who are able to work remotely are strongly encouraged to do so for at least the two weeks after returning from the Thanksgiving weekend. Employees should expect to complete either a two-step swab test or 14-day quarantine upon return, unless they have previously tested positive for COVID-19 and it has been less than three months since they tested positive upon their travel return date. Post-travel testing also is available to those who travel within Texas – and employees may request testing for any reason.
After the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, the cancer center is encouraging employees who work on campus and have direct patient care to register for asymptomatic testing if they have spent time with others outside of their household. That can include multigenerational gatherings, students home from college, congregate settings, or any environment that may have been a source of potential exposure.
To schedule asymptomatic testing, use the employee app and select COVID-19 Information > Think You Should Be Tested? and complete the form. If you don’t have access to the employee app, call Employee Health at 713-745-6900 or myHR at 713-745-6947. Registering in one of these ways ensures quick scheduling and helps us to verify your health insurance. Questions about testing? Click here for more information (MD Anderson credentials required to access.)
Face shields are required PPE: MD Anderson is reminding employees that face shields are required personal protective equipment (PPE) for all patient encounters as they provide critical eye protection, which is especially important in areas with moderate to substantial community transmission. The cancer center will use local audits to assess levels of noncompliance in specific areas and roles. Click here to read the MD Anderson Employee Notes story (MD Anderson credentials required to access).
Updated screening hours: Effective immediately, screening hours for BSRB are 6 a.m.- 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. These hours are also the same for SCRB 1. SCRB 4, Zayed, JBF, MOD, PPB, and LSP screening hours are 6 a.m. – 2p.m. Monday through Friday as of October 5. Screening hours for Saturday and Sunday have not changed at any of the above locations. Please note that there is an option at SCRB1 for screening from 2 p.m.-6 p.m. for those on South Campus who need screening after other screening locations close. Click here to see the screening hours and click here to view MD Anderson entrance map.
PPE refresher course: Starting Monday, Oct. 12, all MD Anderson employees are asked to complete a short training module on proper protective personal equipment (PPE) use by Wednesday, Oct. 28. Click here for details about the training. (Requires MD Anderson credentials to access.)
Notice from MD Anderson: Unmasked employees to experience delays at building entrances: Starting Tuesday, October 13, MD Anderson employees who arrive at the campus without a mask may experience significant delays at entry points, as the cancer center adds additional social distancing protections for the workforce. A September audit revealed that MD Anderson employees may be letting their guard down as they approach entry points. In response to that audit, there will now be a separate line for employees who arrive at entry points without a mask. Read more here. (Requires MD Anderson credentials to access)
Two-mask protocol implemented for MD Anderson research areas
As of August 10, students and faculty working in MD Anderson research labs will receive two medical grade face masks when they enter campus at screening entrances. Research personnel will use one mask solely when working in the lab and the other mask when in all public areas, such as break rooms, hallways, elevators and conference rooms. This approach will help prevent cross-contamination from laboratories containing hazardous chemicals, biohazards, radioactive materials or potentially infectious materials. Click here for more details. (Requires MD Anderson credentials to access.)
Right now, MD Anderson is in Phase 3, which discontinues institutionally mandated shift work for laboratory researchers, but does not include a return to pre-pandemic work hours. Transitioning decision-making about shifts and some other COVID-19 precautions to will depend on local authority, primarily:
- Department Chairs and Department Administrators
- leaders who head up laboratories and cores
More information about Phase 3 can be found here. (Requires MD Anderson credentials to access.)
Information for GSBS students working in UTHealth labs: On June 2, UTHealth implemented this new directive: It is important that researchers continue to social distance while working in laboratories and other research environments. If research labs can operate with personnel adhering to social distancing guidelines in the absence of work shifts, they may do so now. However, if there are too many personnel in a lab space to allow for proper social distancing, a research shift model should continue. Advisors/PIs should work with their department or division leadership to design and manage an appropriate social distancing environment in the lab.
Current directive at UTHealth labs include:
- GSBS students who want to return to work on campus must download and complete this form and send it to Associate Dean Bill Mattox, PhD, via email with the subject line “GSBS student request to return to work at UTHealth lab” to gain access to facilities. Please note that once you submit a form, you must wait for approval before you can return to any lab facilities. You will also be asked to complete a UTHealth wellness questionnaire when you return to campus. Click here to complete the survey.
- If you do not feel safe returning to work on campus, or you are unable to return to campus because you care for a child or family member, you will not be required to do so. Please work with your advisor to coordinate a continued working-from-home option. See original email covering this information here.
- Anyone with an underlying health condition that places them at higher risk for severe COVID-19 infection should continue working from home.
- All personnel and students should self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms and should not come to campus if exhibiting symptoms. Employees exhibiting symptoms should contact Employee Health Services at 713-500-3267. Students who are ill should contact Student Health Services at 713-500-5171.
- Employees or students seeking new ADA accommodations should contact Diversity & Equal Opportunity at 713-500-3131 or firstname.lastname@example.org initiate the process.
- Visitors are asked not to enter UTHealth buildings unless specific arrangements have been made in advance with my office.
On Monday, May 4, UTHealth began implementing a phased approach to increasing research activity on campus. Find information, guidelines, and resources regarding this approach here (requires UTHealth credentials to access).
Stipend information: All GSBS students will continue to receive their stipends while our parent institutions implement changes to lab structures. If GSBS faculty/PIs or students have concerns regarding stipends, please contact Pat Bruesch.
All GSBS faculty/PIs should:
- Work to accommodate staff who are not able to come to work for various reasons (child care, travel, uncomfortable working under these conditions, etc.) by supporting remote access and projects that are adaptable to working outside of the research lab setting.
- Make clear to their staff that personnel exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 or are sick in any way should alert them and not consider any attempted access to the institutional buildings.
- At-risk groups identified by the CDC should work remotely.
Rotation students: As a reminder, rotation students requesting to work from home should not worry about the impact this might have on their rotation and ability to find a faculty advisor. These students will be given an opportunity to spend additional time in their current rotation lab or complete another tutorial rotation, if needed.
Who to contact: All GSBS students who feel their concerns are not being addressed should contact the GSBS Deans' Office at Talk2GSBS@uth.tmc.edu.
Students may also contact institutional compliance hotlines to confidentially and anonymously report concerns:
- UTHealth: 1-888-472-9868, www.tnwinc.com/webreport
- MD Anderson: 1-800-789-4448
What can students do when out of the lab?
Activities that GSBS faculty/PIs can assign GSBS students working remotely could include:
- Keeping a daily log of their research/academic activities. This could include what activities you are able to do while working remotely (literature review, writing, analyzing data, etc.) and what activities you are not able to do (wet lab bench work, work that requires equipment/facilities you currently do not have access to; examples: survival analysis on a mouse model, crystallization of a protein, etc.). This information will be valuable for future grant reporting, research/academic progress, etc.
- Set up a regular online meeting or call with your advisor and/or collaborators to discuss things you are doing.
- Conduct literature reviews for your current or potential work, and/or your dissertation/thesis chapters, etc.
- Practice scientific writing, e.g., proposals, literature reviews, papers, etc.
- Submit unsolicited articles, op-eds, etc. to a scientific journal
- Join in virtual journal clubs
- Take online courses that will benefit the student's training and research. (Note: These courses may not translate to credit at the GSBS. Students should check with their PI before enrolling in an online course.)
- Hone your scientific presentations skills and practice creating interesting presentations (use current data, or data from literature reviews)
- Learn new skills (such as data analysis software or graphics software)
- Plan your experiments for re-entry into the lab
- Work on your career development – conduct informational interviews, research job titles of interest, update your career plan/CV/resume, LinkedIn profile, etc.
- Volunteer your science to help educate the public about COVID-19 and other emerging scientific developments
- Rotation students could review papers written by the PI whose lab they're currently in or those written by faculty they might want to work with in their next rotation.
Students could also implement the activities listed above on their own as they practice social distancing.